WED • 04 APR 2018
So my recent adventure to Norway to compete in the IGO N60 challenge was one such experience that will stay with me as one of those ‘life moments’. The opportunity came through a friend, who I met through work, who knew the founder of the business. Basically he had rowed the Atlantic with three friends and after the 60 or so days arrived in America with an incredible sense of achievement. He decided upon his return to try and give everyone the kind of experience but in more manageable chunks. His business (IGO Adventures) therefore focuses on adventure holidays based on Summer and Winter themes. There is Morocco which involves running and cycling across sand dunes and dusty landscapes to Montana and swimming across lakes to the N60 based on Norway which involved ski touring, cross country skiing and running across icy tundras.
It is the Norway trip we signed up to and while I won’t go into detail on the trip, as another blogger, Jamnes Henderson, has captured my experience (see link), it did end up being one of those life memories. From flying Concorde to a holiday in Italy with all my family to the birth of my daughters or my wedding day they are memories I will think about when I die. I am proud of those memories and makes me feel I have not wasted the opportunity I have been given. Certainly dying with regrets is one of my biggest fears and that helps to define my life.
I have many ambitions, as I am sure we all have, I just hope I have long enough to complete as many as possible before I have to say goodbye. In the meantime I will keep focusing on those key memories.
THU • 21 JUL 2016
Do not underestimate the value of resilience
The datacentres concerned are some of the most popular sites in the UK and because of that the knock on impact is significant especially when customers such as BT support so many other partners, businesses and consumers. However BT have appeared to suffer more than others, but anyone within a datacentre can be out for quite a while when hardware is subjected to a power outage, even a brief one, as it can result in hardware not powering back on. With core hardware spending its whole life turned on, the sudden loss in power can result in a high number of failures, requiring engineer visits and hardware replacement – all of which takes time.
Precaution is key, and whether BT had or had not in place sufficient alternative hardware in that datacentre, it did have other working datacentres, so lessons need to be learned about the importance of uptime and mitigating failure where possible. Customers, and especially businesses and ISPs need to understand the risks of not just their networks but upstream suppliers to mitigate total outages. Datacentres for example run large UPS (uninterruptable power supplies) systems to cope with the switch from mains power to generators and while this provides a level of resilience, it needs to be checked and serviced regularly. Servicing and testing varies dramatically between datacentres so investing in smaller UPS systems for individual racks may therefore seem excessive but from experience it can provide a useful buffer should the worse happen.
Furthermore the number of backups and spares again goes someway to reinforce confidence. Gone are the days, in my mind at least, when datacentres can offer n+1 resilience (where ‘n’ is the required load and the +1 means an additional spare). So for example if a datacentre requires four generators to power the site then five would be installed. This is very different to a more resilient site that offers 2n where, for the same example, eight generators would be provided. The big issue with all of this of course is cost and this has a knock-on effect to the customer.
Ultimately though no datacentre is impervious to disaster, as BT and others experienced today, and while a whole site outage is very rare, the importance of having multiple datacentres is very important. While the costs grows significantly again, because not only is everything at least duplicated but now connectivity is required to all the suppliers, the likelihood of complete outage is seriously reduced. The graph shown is all our BT DSL users, with the red line representing customers coming into the affected London datacentre and the green representing our Manchester datacentre also connected to BT’s network. At the time of the failure all our DSL customers moved across meaning they had an outage of a few minutes while their routers would have logged off and on again – significantly better than just relying on London. But as I say having enough spare bandwidth (at least 50% capacity free) dormant for such an occasion, is another cost.
With customers more interested in SaaS applications and outsourcing operations, their removal from the actual nuts and bolts of the network design puts higher reliance on the supplier and the supplier’s supplier to do the right thing in terms of investment and design. Hopefully issues like those experienced today and yesterday will go someway to help steer investment back into resilience.
WED • 02 DEC 2015
Back to the floor
While returning from holiday I was greeted with the news that while scaffolding had been removed from my house, from a recent reroof, they not only knocked out my satellite dish but also my phone line. So I spent last weekend in the dark ages without mobile phone signal (as I use a booster and EE’s fabulous WifiCall technology), internet and television. Everything from listening to music (Spotify) or watching a film (Apple TV) was curtailed and I was focused instead to look for other forms of entertainment. While it sounds like I spend all my time in front of a screen the ability to bank, share photographs or do some research is reliant on a reliable and fast internet connection.
It did however give me an opportunity to test out our support team, the process BT Openreach now follow for booking engineers, and the list of issues with miscommunication with the engineers on the ground in actually fixing the problem. In the end it turns out it was a good thing that the scaffolders hit the line as it was actually broken in the cabinet as well.
What I always think about when I go through these processes is what my father would make of it. I am not saying he is a technophobe but in terms of industry jargon and feedback is it something he would be happy with would he have been able to get the same resolution. In the end it wasn’t as painful as I had expected, but it certainly could be better. Unfortunately a lot of that process might not change until the future of Openreach has been decided but there are certainly steps the industry can take to help the situation. For one thing our dependency on connectivity is at such a point that we certainly should be thinking about delivery in the same context of gas or electricity. I just hope enough people high up in our industry experience service as customers do rather than relying on their superior contacts or knowledge of the technicalities to mitigate them so we can drive forward with our need to improve.
WED • 23 SEP 2015
It is easy to tick boxes
Surely this was the inevitable outcome from the government supporting BT as the primary partner in rolling out ‘superfast’ (I still don’t know what that really means) broadband across the country. I have written before about moving into a brand new flat in 2014 which was still wired by BT using copper cables, instead of a future proof technology such as fibre which could support potential speeds of over 100 Gb/s. As it is, the technology BT has invested in, Fibre to the Cabinet, ensures we are going to be dependent on phone lines, copper and technical issues for decades to come. So while I appreciate BT’s view to maximise on their existing footprint, as any self-respecting business would probably do to maximise shareholder return, it has proved to be a costly mistake for the rest of the industry and consumers.
The other knock-on effect by handing BT so much responsibility has been the enormity of the task. The business continually has to invest in new staff and equipment to get anywhere near to delivering against the targets put upon it. No wonder the rest of the industry is frustrated. One such issue was recently highlighted to me by a neighbour who said to me that he had finally got ‘fibre broadband’ as it had just been enabled in our building.
“No”, I replied, it has been in our building since January 2014 when BT first enabled the local cabinet. What has transpired is that while our building has been enabled, the actual cabinet quickly ran out of capacity and it has taken over a year to deliver more capacity to it so that the rest of the residents could receive the service.
So is that due to BT being overstretched, or possibly a lack of hardware available? Or cynically could you read into this that actually on paper, at least, our building has been enabled and so therefore met a target, even if not many people can actually order it.
The same could be said where I live in the country. For the past nine months, I have been inspecting a shiny new cabinet that has appeared at the end of my drive. ‘Fibre Broadband is coming’ said a BT engineer to me who came to fix my broken phone line. Maybe, but at the moment all I can see is an empty box in preparation for it. Are we going to get the same issue in our village, that only a few will be able to enjoy it until it reaches capacity when it is finally enabled? And has the very presence of the cabinet thwarted any plan from an alternative fibre provider from investing into connecting up our village?
SKY and TalkTalk through their partnership with CityFibre have already started to look at rolling out Fibre to the Home (proper Fibre Broadband) and I believe will be looking to bring up to 70,000 homes online in York. Vodafone has a national fibre network that they own through their acquisition of Cable & Wireless. What Ofcom need to do is allow BT to do what they do best and enable everyone else to build and develop their own technologies to the home. They need to ensure that we have a level playing field; already other providers such as City Fibre, IFNL and Gigaclear have managed to build their own fibre networks on private investment. We can then let history decide if BT’s focus on a copper phone network was the right choice.
WED • 26 AUG 2015
The internet going around in circles
Another area that looks to be reverting back to the good old days is the internet, well actually retail. For many years we have been told about the death of the high street as retailers move online or new online only retailers set up shop. However with the internet comes downsides, notably the issue around same day delivery, testing goods and returns. Some of these issues are looking to be resolved with Amazon recently announcing same day delivery. But for those of you who have sold items on eBay or tried to return an item bought on the internet, the hassle of having to find packaging and posts goods is tiresome to say the least.
Today news comes that Ebuyer (a great resource for cheap electronics) is losing their MD over a disagreement about the direction of the business. He believes the business needs to look at opening up high street stores and the rest of the management team disagree. However having the ability to distribute goods directly to customers and upsell through a personal interaction is a benefit long lost in the world of the internet. Even the likes of Amazon are desperately trying to work out their high street strategy as they look for new areas of growth. Who would have thought that a company like Argos would have had the right model for an internet sales goliath like Amazon?
So I don’t think the high street is dead, it is just being reinvented as we look to regress from the internet (as far as retail is concerned) and look to do what we used to do, but only better.
THU • 04 JUN 2015
The Speed of Change
Our parents saw it as a key investment in our education and it was an introduction to an industry that has become my career. Back in the days of the 1990’s our first machine had 8 MB RAM, 500 MB Hard Drive, Windows 3.1 and an x386 processor. There was even a ‘turbo’ button on the front. Who, by the way, would sit there with this not engaged? Anyway I spent many a happy hour deleting everything on the machine, having to reformat it, taking it apart and putting it back together again. I have built my own machines until recently and take great pleasure in specifying all the hardware and bringing it to life. I even started my own company do this while as school.
So it was yesterday evening that I found myself building my brother’s machine when we thought about how far the industry has come. His machine now sports eight cores (processors) at 4 Ghz, 32 GB of RAM, 4TB of hard drive space with SSD technology and a graphics card with 2GB of dedicated RAM and a dual core processor. Even his operating system can’t cope with the power and we have to now look at upgrading that as well.
They have been saying for a number of years now that Moore’s Law can’t continue. But with new advancements being made continuously I think we should be considering development speeding up, not slowing down. Even in our industry who would have through speeds of 100 Mb/s are achievable using a copper phone cable when 10 years ago we thought 0.5 Mb/s was fast.
FRI • 27 FEB 2015
Should internet access be considered a utility?
So ignoring for the moment the issue of ‘not being able to charge to speed up connections’ I believe the changes are needed, and the structure provided provides a clearer market in which these providers can operate. I don’t believe the end user will see prices reduce, only climb, as the American market has a number of large operators who will see this regulation as an opportunity to push up costs. Back in the UK however I am less sure by the need to regulate internet access like a utility at this point in time and maybe the steps we take should be similar to those of the FCC.
Don’t get me wrong I believe at some point internet access should be seen as a utility, but at the moment with one major provider owning and operating the majority of the network in the UK, the ability to continue to deliver choice and investment is surely curtailed. The gas or electricity networks are on the whole uniform in the service received by the majority. They are also delivered in a way that makes them highly reliable and consistent, something lacking from our current data network delivery. I am sure that I wouldn’t want my gas supply to be as reliable as my home internet line was over Christmas (water on the line apparently), and I certainly don’t believe the 2 Mb/s service I receive is the same as my brother who has actual Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) delivering 200 Mb/s into his flat.
We, well my business, Fluidata, looked at this a number of years ago and believed we would make it our long term goal to build the national grid of data networks, something we have made great progress with in the last few years. There is a real need to piece together all the disparate networks across the country, and specifically the true fibre networks, rather than just the ADSL, FTTC and Cable networks that the majority of consumers currently use. Only when this is complete and the majority of homes have true fibre connections can government realistically push the industry towards utility status.
For the time being the support in helping these businesses roll out true FTTP is surely to the benefit of the country rather than potentially undermining this activity by regulation that the current infrastructure cannot support.
FRI • 20 FEB 2015
Moving to the dark side
I understand the need for Microsoft to continue to develop their widely adopted operating system however since Windows 8 has launched I have struggled to get to grips with it. Certain features have been removed and the interface changed, and I am sure that will further be the case with the imminent release of Windows 10. With PCs becoming more powerful and software better written, the ability to customise or see the nuts and bolts of the software has slowly been removed making the software more functional. The problem with this and the new interface is that it got me thinking as to whether instead of getting to grips with another new version of Windows interface that actually I should now have a go with Apple’s OS?
Like a lot of people I have made an easy transition to Apple’s iPhone and iPad and use a lot of its functionality. But going from a pre-smart phone from Nokia to an iPhone is surely an easier task than unlearning years of Windows software shortcuts and moving to OS X Yosemite? Well this week I took the plunge with my sitting room computer and I have to say how impressed I am. After reading lots of reviews on Apple’s Mac software, I got the impression it was difficult to use, but within 10 minutes I was happily moving files around, upgrading software and customising my desk space. I believe the latest version is the closest yet to imitate Apple’s iOS, which is used on their infamous iPhone, so some users dislike it, but for a virgin user it helped it make more sense.
Going forward I can see more of my machines moving to Apple and crucially when my parents knock on my door for advice I am going to be steering them towards Apple’s cool looking PCs. As I say there is no need to know what is going on underneath the hood so Apple’s locked down machines and stable software mean I can now start treating my computer more like my car, in the sense that mechanically if something goes wrong I take it to an expert!
THU • 12 FEB 2015
Freedom of the City of London
Today the Freedom is more closely associated to the Livery Companies which are basically London’s ancient and modern trade associations and guilds. Currently there are one hundred and ten such companies focusing today on charitable-giving, networking opportunities and the ability to be involved or vote for senior civic roles such as the Sheriffs or Lord Mayor of London.
My father joined his Livery Company when he worked in the contract cleaning industry and became master, which afforded him a great opportunity to give something back and support his industry. This early awareness of the City of London is one of the reasons I wanted to join the WCIT and be involved in such a historic institution.
So I understand I am now afforded the right to heard sheep across London Bridge as part of receiving a Freedom, so if you hear of any serious delays in the Southwark area you will know who is responsible!
TUE • 10 FEB 2015
Does a low tax model work?
I understand the economics and the fact that a rich non-dom spending thousands on a Swiss made watch isn't really helping someone living in the UK, but what I do have a problem with is the concept that a low tax model for the UK has somehow hindered our prospects as a nation. I think most people agree that it is our middle classes that make the biggest contribution to our nation in the form of tax receipts and spending, both of which are needed for our economy to grow. They are generally low users of the state and as such are the part of our society we need to focus on. I can’t believe that a competitive tax model for the middle classes won’t aid growth as people are not penalised for earning more and have more cash in which to spend.
I do believe however that someone paying the highest band of tax, let’s say 45% should be uniform so that anyone earning greater sums, but in different ways (dividends for example) all pay the same amount. So the high earner of the middle class isn't overly penalised because they aren't in a position to avoid tax like the high net worth’s. However if this was achieved I can’t see why a new average can’t be obtained and that the highest rate becomes a more palatable 30-40%. Surely with a more streamlined tax model this would have an impact to persuade the very rich not to overly invest in avoidance and help increase overall tax receipts.
As mentioned in a previous post I would also focus on increasing tax for spending, I think VAT is a brilliant method to collect tax as people have a choice as to what, and how much they spend their earnings on. It also has the ability to tax those with large disposable incomes more proportionally, even if they are classed as non-doms. It also has the ability to change the proportion of tax on the individual item so costs like food and energy can be kept lower to aid those with a lower income.
I think we need to have a much more healthy debate around tax and get away from the ambiguity that HMRC have managed to create with international businesses and non-doms, and bring in a uniform policy that affects the whole nation. Thus simplifying the process and hence aiding clarity on what is due and by who. That way the UK can start to address the growing divide and look to raise the prospects of those wanting to earn more without having to curtail the achievements of the very rich. Society in my view on the whole has moved a lot further on from the 60s and 70s when the divide was much smaller, even though the economists would argue people are in fact poorer today. Our expectations have grown, as there are more things in which people can now spend their money (and save it), so we need a tax policy in which reflects our changing demographic.
FRI • 12 DEC 2014
A truly separate Openreach
TalkTalk of course have more to lose than most if BT continues with their plan to combine the two businesses. TalkTalk is a customer of Openreach so that they can install their own equipment in the telephone exchange and compete directly against BT Wholesale. The thought that their supplier will also be their biggest competitor will not be a positive thought. SKY of course is in the same boat and so are a number of other businesses who invest into the Openreach infrastructure.
For the wider industry and businesses such as ours, I can’t see the benefits. I can see a lot of cost cutting and improved investor return for BT Group, but for the industry? Fortunately in the UK we enjoy one of the most competitive and diverse telecoms markets in the world. This surely can only continue as long as the industry works to ensure BT provides as much of an open playing field as possible. Perhaps we didn’t go far enough and by keeping Openreach as part of the group has meant this situation is now in the realms of reality, and that actually the complete separation should have happened long ago.
Maybe it is too late. From the discussions I have heard; people in BT see it very much as a done deal. Let’s hope whatever the outcome, the needs of the industry and consumers are heard over those of the shareholders.
TUE • 09 DEC 2014
Reputation is everything
Sometimes however this doesn't always work, especially where direct sales teams are given access to partner accounts, or that CRM systems are not professional enough to highlight potential conflicts. This issue seems to have appeared in one of our largest ethernet suppliers with existing customers and new prospects of ours being suddenly called by their direct sales teams. Now a few times and that might be considered and accident, but suddenly and in numbers highlights a bigger problem, almost a policy change from above. We have had this before, and in those scenarios suppliers are quickly dropped and enquiries are made elsewhere. Sooner, rather than later, they realise their actions are not generating more business but eroding it and actions are taken.
However, if our industry does one thing well, it is that it remembers. Changing the mindset back is a slow and painful process and one best avoided. There is one major national transit provider who are known for competitive pricing, but their service was so shocking that large numbers of networks will not use them. No matter how much better they are today or how much further their price has dropped. I have even had disagreements with my technical people who will not compromise on quality by risking another try.
I assume a lot of this is born out of the commoditisation of our industry. As carriers and providers with limited value add see their price eroded through indirect channels, they look to direct channels to build higher value and better returns. By doing this they end up competing with their competitor, which while entirely reasonable, begs the question as to what competitive data they are using to win business.
For me there are limited times for second chances, and without robust and open processes for dealing with partner data internally our industry risks losing the trust of system integrators, and partners, that has helped it to grow so successfully.
WED • 19 NOV 2014
The machines are listening
Now I can understand the indignation of what is seen as a private conversation being eavesdropped, but at the same time how can the affected party expect for this service to be free and still operate. Google are not the only culprits, with Facebook being another easy example of a company using personal information to target advertising, which in turn provides the funds to enable it to operate in the first place. From my perspective it is the downside of signing up for a free service. Obviously if I was paying for the service I wouldn’t expect such behaviour, but ultimately don’t people realise that the internet is a public place, and that any activity is open to observation?
I have written before about the issue we have in society with people wanting to be completely anonymous on the internet. We don’t tolerate it on our streets; we are one of the most watched nations on earth, so why do people expect it on the internet? I believe the notion of sitting in your armchair in the security of your own home means that you are not public, but the reality is far from it. In the same way that if I started doing something obscene in a public place I would expect to be arrested but for some reason the belief that any kind of behaviour or action on the internet is not open to observation is very naïve.
I treat the internet like the high-street or anywhere outside my own home. If I would not be happy shouting the message on the street that I am having with someone over the internet (either via email or online), then I don’t say it. I wait until I meet with them and then have the conversation in person, which is then truly private. For years other parts of our lives have been subjected to observation, such as phones, with our content even our location open to monitoring. Hopefully information such as this is only viewed at the highest level of authority but the fact is it can’t be considered private.
I understand that society needs to decide how this life changing technology will impact our privacy, and it is great a discussion is happening, but the reality is if you don’t want someone to know about something then don’t mention it over the internet because the walls have ears.
WED • 12 NOV 2014
Seeing is believing
The phones themselves are the latest Polycom models which plug into the hosted voice platform we have been using since our inception. Video is automatically enabled for any internal call and means it is always used, without any interaction needed from the employee.
One of the challenges we have found as a fast growing multisite business is the interaction between new staff across offices, and I am hoping technology like this will only help forge closer working relationships. I am taking one home this weekend, and if successful on my abysmal home internet line, will see more staff being able to interact more when not in the office.
I have always found with technology it has to be intuitive to be adopted – as we found when we built our video wall which is a permanent video conferencing setup between our two offices. When video conferencing is in a meeting room, it rarely gets used, but set it up as a permanent ‘window’ into the other office and it is constantly looked at, smiles are made and interaction happens.
Time will tell if it has been an expensive exercise with a technology that has stalled before to get off the ground. My hope is that in the next few months if I suggest we go back to the old system, without video, that the staff refuse to do so.
FRI • 24 OCT 2014
Little features make a big difference
But after this holiday I believe I gave it a good work out to not only keep track of my boarding tickets but also the balance on my credit card (useful when the exchange rate is so good) and even the train ticket to and from Heathrow. No longer was I searching desperately after returning from holiday for the most expensive train ticket in the world, it was right there on my phone.
It has opened my eyes to the new payment technology which is being introduced into the new iPhone 6, and while live in the US, will take a few more months before being rolled out here. I am sure, while I don’t currently appreciate what exactly it will do, it will enhance the way I spend and maybe even make my wallet redundant.
So while my new iPhone is still not as good as my old Nokia for making calls, it does an awful lot more, so I am willing to put up with it for all the extra features and benefits I can get.